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FCC Denies Two Amateur Radio Petitions for Rulemaking

05/07/2008

In two separate decisions released today, the Federal Communications Commission denied two Petitions for Rulemaking (PRM) having to do with Amateur Radio. These two PRMs, one filed by Mark Miller, N5RFX, of Arlington, Texas, concerning digital spectrum issues, and the other filed jointly by Ken Chafin, W6CPA, of La Crescenta, California, and Leon Brown, KC6JAR, of Los Angeles, California, concerning additional spectrum for more repeaters, including digital systems. Miller's PRM was assigned RM-11392, while the Chafin and Brown petition was not afforded an RM number by the FCC. According to ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, the ARRL filed no comments on either petition in accordance with the League's standard policy on bare petitions for rule making that do not deal with spectrum allocations.

Mark Miller, N5RFX

Miller filed his PRM (RM-11392) in March 2007, requesting that portions of Part 97 be amended to revise various definitions and frequency privileges. He requested that the Commission amend various rules that relate to use of Amateur Service spectrum by stations transmitting data and other narrow bandwidth emissions. Specifically, the petition requested that the FCC amend the definition of data in Section 97.3(c)(2) to delete language added in the Commission's 2006 Omnibus Report and Order; amend Section 97.221 to limit the subbands on which unattended operation of automatically controlled digital stations is permitted, and amend Sections 97.305 and 97.307 to establish maximum necessary bandwidths for radioteletype (RTTY) and data emissions in the amateur high frequency bands.

Miller noted in his PRM that adoption of these changes would result in "a small number of wider bandwidth modes," including Pactor III, not being authorized. Miller supported his request, saying, "[e]missions have crept into the narrowband RTTY/Data subbands in the 80-10 meter bands that are not appropriate for the RTTY/Data subbands," and that "[s]tations under automatic control have taken advantage of loopholes created by terminology in the commission's rules." The FCC noted that it had received more than 650 comments and reply comments to this PRM, "most of which oppose the petition."

Definition of Data

In its 2006 Omnibus R&O, the FCC revised the definition of data to include certain image emission types in order to permit amateur stations to transmit both image and data emission types in the same frequency segments. The PRM noted that the Commission proposed this change in response to a rulemaking petition filed by Miller in 2003: "The Commission agreed with commenters, including Miller, who argued that permitting images to be transmitted on data emission frequency segments would allow Amateur Radio to make the most of new software programs, thereby advancing Amateur Radio technology, which would be consistent with one of the purposes of Amateur Service, namely to contribute to the advancement of the radio art."

Miller asserts in his 2007 PRM that Section 97.3(c)(2) should be amended to return to the pre-2006 definition of data because "the necessary tests have not been performed to ensure that this mixing [of data and image emissions] will not cause interference because of an increase in traffic" on certain bands by upgraded licensees after the FCC eliminated Morse code testing as an license examination requirement.

Miller's assertion conflicts with the FCC's Omnibus R&O, as well as Miller's own assertion in his 2003 PRM that permitting amateur stations to transmit both image and data emission types in the same frequency segments would not result in interference. The FCC contends that "nothing in the present record indicates that increased activity by upgraded licensees, or any other changed circumstance, provides a basis for revisiting the Commission's 2006 conclusion." The FCC disagreed with Miller's "unsupported assertion" that elimination of Morse code proficiency testing would cause "these bands to transmit both image and data emission types in the same frequency segments requires corresponding action to restrict permissible emission types. Rather, we believe that some upgraded licensees will choose to engage in these types of communications, but others will select different operating activities," the FCC stated in their decision. "Moreover," the FCC continued, "rescinding the 2006 amendment would conflict with the Commission's conclusion that permitting amateur stations to transmit both image and data emission types in the same frequency segments would contribute to the advancement of the radio art."

The FCC concluded that Miller, in his 2007 PRM, had not set forth "sufficient reasons" for the Commission to consider deleting the 2006 addition to the definition of data: "Should future experience substantiate Miller's concerns, he may file a new, factually supported petition for rulemaking."

Automatically Controlled Digital Stations

Miller, in his 2007 PRM, also asked that Section 97.221 be amended "to permit automatically controlled digital stations to transmit only on VHF and higher amateur bands and the nine specific HF subbands." Section 97.221 permits automatic control15 of amateur stations transmitting a RTTY or data on any other amateur frequency authorized for RTTY or data emissions. Miller contended that automatically controlled digital stations utilize bandwidth modes that are incompatible with the Amateur Service because "such stations do not analyze the propagation conditions and amount of traffic in the spectrum." He argued that such modulation modes "should not be permitted because other modes offer greater spectral efficiency while occupying less bandwidth" and contended that "interference from automatically controlled digital stations will increase in the wake of the elimination of Morse code testing, as upgraded licensees receive new HF privileges."

The FCC, upon review of Miller's PRM, was not persuaded that Miller "set forth sufficient reasons for the Commission to propose to amend the rules to prohibit automatically controlled stations from transmitting on frequency segments other than those specified in Section 97.221(b)" and again rejected "as speculative" Miller's contention that upgraded licensee's HF operations will result in "increased interference from automatically controlled digital stations."

Bandwidth Limitation

The FCC stated that their rules "do not specifically limit the permissible bandwidth for RTTY and data emissions in the amateur HF bands." Instead, the Commission continued, Section 97.307(f) limits specified RTTY or data emissions "to a symbol rate not to exceed 300 bauds (in the 80 to 12 meter bands) or 1200 bauds (in the 10 meter band); or for frequency-shift keying (FSK), to a maximum frequency shift of 1 kilohertz between mark and space." Miller proposed that these limits be replaced with a maximum necessary bandwidth of 1.5 kHz or 2.4 kHz, respectively, noting that "the current limitations were developed before phase-shift keying (PSK) emissions generated by digital signal processors, such as personal computer sound cards, became available to amateur radio operators" and that that the current rules "no longer provide the separation of certain inharmonious emission types to different segments of the frequency band."

Again, the FCC was not persuaded by Miller's arguments: "We believe that these rules provide amateur service licensees the flexibility to develop new technologies within the spectrum authorized for the various classes of licensees, while protecting other users of the spectrum from harmful interference. We also believe that imposing a maximum bandwidth limitation on data emissions would result in a loss of flexibility to develop and improve technologies as licensees' operating interests change, new technologies are incorporated, and frequency bands are reallocated. Additionally, we believe that amending the amateur service rules to limit the ability of amateur stations to experiment with various communications technologies or otherwise impeding their ability to advance the radio art would be inconsistent with the definition and purpose of the amateur service. Moreover, we do not believe that changing the rules to prohibit a communications technology currently in use is in the public interest."

As such, the FCC concluded that Miller did not set forth "sufficient reasons for the Commission to propose to delete the 2006 addition to the definition of data, amend the rules to prohibit automatically controlled stations from transmitting on frequency segments other than those specified in Section 97.221(b), or replace the symbol rate limits in Section 97.307(f) with bandwidth limitations," and wholly denied Miller's PRM.

Ken Chafin, W6CPA, and Leon Brown, KC6JAR

Chafin and Brown jointly filed a PRM in October 2007 requesting that the FCC "propose to expand the frequencies on which an amateur station operating as a repeater (repeater station) may operate," specifically Section 97.205(b) to allow repeater stations to transmit in the 145.5-145.8 MHz frequency segment of the 2 meter amateur service band (144-148 MHz), in addition to the 2 meter band frequency segments currently authorized for repeater station operation.

Chafin and Brown argued that additional spectrum is needed for repeater stations "because some amateur repeater stations have begun using digital communications protocols and "digital voice operation is incompatible with existing analog operations [because d]igital voice users are unable to determine if the desired frequency is in use by analog users and can inadvertently cause harmful interference to those users." The men pointed out that coordinating groups have been unable to separate analog and digital voice repeater operations to avoid harmful interference because the available repeater spectrum in the 2 meter band is "fully occupied by existing analog users in most metropolitan areas."

The FCC, after considering the PRM, concluded that it did not present grounds for the Commission to amend its rules: "Repeater stations are authorized to transmit on any frequency in the 2 meter band except the 144.0-144.5 MHz and 145.5-146.0 MHz frequency segments. These two segments were excluded to minimize the possibility of harmful interference to other amateur service stations and operating activities, including 'weak signal' operations. Allocating an additional three hundred kilohertz of the 2 meter band to repeater operation would not be consistent with that concern. Rather, it would likely result in increased interference to non-repeater stations."

The Commission further noted that when it had previously addressed the interference between amateur stations engaging in different operating activities, "it has declined to revise the rules to limit a frequency segment to one emission type in order to prevent interference to the operating activities of other amateur radio service licensees." The FCC pointed out that interference between amateur stations is already addressed by Section 97.101(b) and (d) of the Commission's Rules, requiring "amateur licensees to cooperate in selecting transmitting channels and in making the most effective use of amateur frequencies, provide that no amateur frequency will be assigned for the exclusive use of any station allocated to the Amateur Radio Service, and prohibit operators from willfully or maliciously interfering with or causing interference to any radio communication or signal." and wholly denied Chafin and Brown's PRM.



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